What’s the secret to happiness and achievement? Sometimes it’s not so much what you do as what you stop doing. That’s the lesson behind some of the talks in TED’s playlist Counterintuitive Career Advice. The whole playlist includes 12 great talks, but the ones I love the most tell you what not to do–and show how most people hold themselves back from greatness.
Spend a little time watching these great speakers and you’ll learn some priceless lessons about getting out of your own way:
1. Stop making excuses.
“Why You Will Fail to Have a Great Career,” by economics professor Larry Smith, may well be my favorite TED talk of all time. He tells the audience what he tells his students–that instead of reaching for greatness, they will find excuses for failing to pursue their dreams. From “I’m not a genius” to “I value my relationships too much,” he demolishes every one of these excuses and then some. And he will leave you feeling extraordinarily inspired.
2. Stop being so agreeable.
Going along to get along is a powerful, deep-seated human instinct, explains Margaret Heffernan, author of Willful Blindness, in the thought-provoking talk “Dare to Disagree.” But resisting is well worth it, because agreeableness can literally be lethal. Heffernan uses real-world examples to illustrate the danger of staying silent when you believe something’s wrong, and the good things that can happen when we accept conflict and disagreement as the valuable tools they are.
3. Stop expecting to succeed all the time.
Success is only momentary, argues art historian Sarah Lewis (pictured) in “Embrace the Near Win.” And even the most talented and skilled among us only achieve success some of the time. She learned this from looking at an artist’s early–and not-quite-satisfactory–paintings, and by watching an archery team work hard for three hours and only sometimes hit the bull’s-eye.
“Success motivates us, but a near-win can propel us in an ongoing quest,” she explains. So celebrate your near-wins and your almost-achievements. They’re an important part of the journey to where you want to be.
4. Stop giving up too soon.
What’s the best predictor of success? It isn’t talent, skill, or intelligence. It’s grit–that enduring ability to get up and try again after you’ve failed, and to continue believing that you can always do better next time. That observation comes from psychologist Angela Lee Duckworth in her talk “The Key to Success? Grit.”
“Grit is passion and perseverance for very long-term goals,” she says.”Grit is having stamina. Grit is sticking with your future, day in, day out, not just for the week, not just for the month, but for years, and working really hard to make that future a reality.” How do you build grit? The best answer so far is something called a “growth mindset”–the recognition that our ability to learn and grow isn’t set but can improve with our effort. Next time you fail, keep that in mind and know that, if you keep working at it, you’re certain to do better next time.
5. Stop looking for quick answers.
“It is striking to see how big of an overlap there is between the dreams that we have and projects that never happen,” declares Brazilian entrepreneur and educator Bel Pesce in “5 Ways to Kill Your Dreams.” We kill our dreams, she explains, when we expect to succeed overnight, when we look to others for answers or blame them for our failures, and when we slack off after achieving what seems like enough success.
But there’s one other way to kill our dreams, she says–focusing only on the dream and not on the process it takes to get there. “Yes, you should enjoy the goals themselves,” she explains. “But people think that you have dreams and whenever you get to reaching one of those dreams, it’s a magical place where happiness will be all around.”
It doesn’t work that way, she says. Achieving a dream is only a momentary sensation, much like when mountaineers work hard to reach a mountain peak, only to start back down a few minutes later. “The only way to really achieve all of your dreams is to fully enjoy every step of the journey,” she says.
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